Department of History

For Current Students


Comprehensive exams

The Comprehensive Examination should be taken at the end of the third semester of the program. It is generally scheduled on that semester's Reading Day (the day following the last day of classes). The exam is four hours long and consists of two questions with two hours devoted to each question. The examinations are graded by three-member faculty committees in the appropriate concentration who award pass or fail grades to each of the two essays. The student must receive passing grades from at least two of the three graders and must pass BOTH questions they answer. The examinations are structured as follows:

  • U.S. concentration: Each student is presented with three questions and must answer two of them.
  • European concentration: Each student selects the early or modern European period. He or she is presented with three questions and must answer two of them.
  • Global concentration: Each student is presented with two questions in general Global History and must answer one of them. Then he or she is presented with two questions in his or her geographical area of specialization and must answer one of them.
  • Public History concentration: Each student is presented with two questions on the general theme of Public History and must answer one of them. Each student must choose either the first or second half of U.S., European, or Global History. He or she is presented with two questions in that concentration and must answer one of them.

M.A. Comprehensive Examination Reading Lists (Revised Fall 2021 AFTER May 2022)

NOTE: Students should not feel constrained by these lists and are strongly encouraged to bring to the examination ideas and information gained from all of their course readings in the History M.A. program.

Sample M.A. Comprehensive Examination Questions

U.S. History:
  • How and why has the scope and size of the federal government changed between 1850 and 1950?
  • Much of the scholarship on American history has been defined by the “holy trinity” of race, class, and gender. Do you agree or disagree? How do these categories help us better understand the past?
  • American history is often taught as being separate from global history. However, scholars have increasingly argued that we cannot understand American history in isolation from the rest of the world. How have events/people/movements that transcend national boundaries shaped the development of America since the end of the Civil War?
European History (Modern):
  • What were the economic, social, and political consequences of the shift from the Mediterranean economy to the Atlantic economy in the early modern period?
  • How did nationalism change from the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century?” Answer this question by examining one or more European nations.
  • Compare and contrast the origins of the two world wars in Europe. Distinguish between unique, analogous, and recurring elements.
Global History:
  • Imperialism can be divided into formal and informal types. Define both and explain how they were different and how they were similar. Provide examples to illustrate your major points.
  • Define nationalism and compare and contrast an example of successful and unsuccessful non-Western nation-building in the 20th century, focusing primarily on what factors contributed to success and failure.
  • Select one of the following issues. Define it and discuss its significance to global history (ca 1500-present): technology, identity, political ideology, race, gender, nationalism.
Public History (General Section):
  • Discuss how three specific public history spaces--such as museums, historic sites, memorials, or digital creations--use material objects to shape the interpretation of a particular past.
  • How has the relationship between public history professionals and the public changed over time, and what and who has influenced these changes? 
  • How did twentieth-century social movements affect the practice of public history?  How successful were those who sought to revise the public interpretation of America’s past, and how do those efforts continue to evolve?

Foreign Language Translation Examination

The foreign language examination is offered in September and January of each academic year. It is an exercise in which a student is given a 300-word passage in his or her preferred language to translate within 90 minutes. Students may use a dictionary (either paper or an approved online type) to assist them. The examinations are graded by members of the history faculty. Students may take the examination as many times as necessary to earn a passing grade.

Useful Forms